|Technology helps disabled move forward
|Institution addresses learning needs of sight, hearing impaired
HIVHI's specialists receive training in latest breakthroughs, teaching methods.
The first organization of its kind in the Middle East, Al-Hadi Institution for the Visually and Hearing Impaired (HIVHI) caters to the special learning needs of disabled children through utilizing the latest devices, computerized programs and other related technologies.
Al-Hadi also aims at integrating a disabled curriculum into the regular educational system on all levels.
"In advanced societies, these types of disabilities no longer pose a great problem as they still do in our countries," HIVHI Director Ismael Zein said. "Technology is constantly providing solutions to aid the disabled and bridge the gap separating them from their surroundings."
"In our society, the visually and hearing impaired are excluded in most aspects of social activities because we never tried to look at them from a different angle other than their disability," Zein said.
He added that the community needed something more efficient than the traditional approach to help the visually and hearing impaired blend into their communities and develop their status as equal members in society.
"Al-Mabarrat Association recognized the enormity of the problem, compounded by unbearable by the civil war and forced displacement of families and neighborhoods," Zein said.
When the organization first started working with the disabled back in 1978, its efforts were limited to training a small number of blind adults in traditional work such as weaving and bamboo handicraft.
Providing an education for the disabled is a fairly new concept in Lebanon and throughout the Middle East. "Usually parents consider them as abnormal [and believe that they] should be sent to mental hospitals or locked away from the public," Zein said.
"The public considers the hearing disabled as deaf. That implies a sense of being obtuse. However, we learned that a hearing disability does not mean a learning disability," he added, "and that changing the approach would make a big difference. The HIVHI decided that opening specialized schools for the disabled was the right solution."
In 1988, the HIVHI established Al-Nour School for the visually impaired and five years later, Al-Rajaa School for the hearing impaired.
At first glance, the two schools look like any others, as do their students, who walk confidently and without assistance.
"It is their home, they know their way quite well," said Mona Khishin, who looks after the computer laboratory and is also visually impaired.
Entering into a classroom for the hearing impaired, one could mistake the room for any ordinary class.
"I am typing a message to my mother," an 8-year-old child said. "I use the computer and a printout."
Khishin was using the Internet to chat to her friend who is hearing impaired. "This is the only effective communication we have with each other," she said. "Before the Internet I had no direct means to communicate with the hearing impaired."
In the beginning, the schools used regular teachers as in any school, due to a lack of specialists for teaching the disabled.
"This did not serve our final objective and we had no hope of integrating the candidates into regular schooling," Zein said.
Seeing no other option, HIVHI sent several groups of teachers for training in educating the disabled in Germany and the United Kingdom.
"The disabled need a means of communication - the basic requirement to learn and work," Zein said.
Presently, HIVHI's team of specialists receives continuous training in the latest technologies and teaching methods in their fields and stays abreast of the up-to-date inventions on the market.
The school has adopted both Arabic and English in its curriculum, in addition to communication tools such as lip reading and sign language.
Classes include students between the ages of 3 and 17.
"In addition to their disability needs, the curriculum also meets Education Ministry guidelines," Zein said.
Over the past year, the organization has seen enrollment increase from 21 students in 1990 to 375 this past year.
In 1999, the institution moved to its present location, a spacious and modern building near the Airport Road in Beirut.
"Zeid al-Kazimi, a Kuwaiti national, built the new compound and equipped it with specifications and requirements to suit the disabled," Zein said. "When we receive new students, we train the visually impaired on how to move around freely with as little assistance as possible. We have special audio signals positioned in the lift, on the stairs and in other important places.
"Equipped with modern devices and a qualified teaching staff, the schools could claim to contribute to enhancing the social development for the disabled and integrating them fully as productive elements in the society," Zein added.
Teachers of various specialties in math, physics or chemistry, had to go through special training to adapt to the new methods of teaching the disabled.
"We were pleased that the intensive training paid off, so we extended the program to government public schools and colleges to have enough experienced staff when our graduates move to a higher level," Zein said.
Because of these intensive training sessions, the visually disabled students can now integrate into regular schools and universities.
"Of course, we had to convince the Education Ministry to adapt to these needs too," Zein said. "We still have a long way to go in that aspect, though."
Adnan El Ghoul
The Daily Star